How Floortime and TEACCH can Help the Child with Autism

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We have been talking about autism this month on ADHD Central because April is Autism Awareness month.   Many of our members report that their child has an autism spectrum disorder as well as ADHD symptoms. This is certainly true for my son. In addition to his autism, he suffers from hyperactivity, problems with concentration and paying attention, anxiety,   as well as sensory integration issues.   So for all you parents out there who have a child with a mixed bag of diagnoses including autism, I am going to be talking this week about Floortime and TEAACH as therapeutic and teaching methods to help your child. In case you missed it, last week I talked about Applied Behavioral Analysis, otherwise known as ABA and PRT or Pivotal Response Training.

What is Floortime?

Floortime is a therapeutic model for stimulating both cognitive and emotional growth for children with special needs developed by a Dr. Stanley Greenspan. In 1998, right before my son would be diagnosed with autism, Greenspan published a book with Serena Wieder called The Child with Special Needs. I had heard about Greenspan's methods from other parents on an online forum and how pleased they were about the progress their children were making due to incorporating floortime into their daily routines.

A lot has happened over the years as this model has expanded and various elements have been added. This is an abbreviated version of Floortime:

  • Floortime is child led, meaning the parent or therapist follows the child's lead.

  • This method is relationship-based, meaning that the interpersonal interactions between the child and facilitator are of primary importance.

  • This method relies upon play. If the child is on the floor, you get on the floor with them. This model is not a "sit in a chair and instruct the child" method.

  • The goals of floortime are to focus upon increasing the following core developmental processes including: focusing, attending, engaging, and communicating with purpose and intention.

  • A therapist or instructor skilled in floortime techniques can train the parent to implement this method in the home setting.

What I like about Floortime:

Floortime is one of the first methods we used to help our son Max when he was just diagnosed with autism. I loved that it was child-led, we could do it anytime and anywhere. I liked the developmental principles that this method is based upon. It was a method, for me, which made sense. It stays away from rote responses and encourages meaningful engagement and communication.

I also liked it because it was fun. It fostered not only my son's creativity but my own. This was a therapeutic and teaching method that I could enjoy doing with my child. I also liked it because for my son it was effective. My son was not talking or paying attention to us at all. Through Floortime my son learned to communicate in words and gestures. He began to interact with us in a meaningful way. It was the perfect early intervention model for us.

I also like Floortime as it is one of the few methods which incorporates sensory integration techniques right into the approach.

What I don't like about Floortime:

This method can be tiring in that every moment can be considered that special therapeutic time that you can't afford to miss. As a parent you begin to feel guilty for not implementing it one hundred percent of the time, but this is simply not possible. I also found that Floortime was great for teaching certain skills like two way communication, but you would probably use other methods to teach things like skills of daily living or academics.

To find out more about Floortime:

The Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders

What is TEACCH?

TEACCH stands for Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication-Handicapped Children. This model of intervention was created in the early 1970's by a fellow named Eric Schopler. This method also has changed over the years but some techniques and philosophy remain the same.

  • TEACCH takes into account the person with autism's interests and ways of learning. For example, if the child is a visual learner they will utilize instructional materials with visual content.

  • TEACCH uses structured teaching and an organization of the physical environment to eliminate distractions.

  • This model attempts to respect "the culture of autism" by not forcing normalcy or focusing solely upon remediating what are considered to be deficits.

  • TEACCH emphasizes the development of independent learning and work skills.

  • This method utilizes visual schedules and work systems to promote this independence.

What I like about TEACCH:

There is much that I do like about this method for teaching and especially the use of visual communication boards and schedules. I found that for my child, the use of schedules with clear expectations of a beginning and end made my child far less anxious. I like their way of organizing teaching materials so that they make sense for the learner. I do like that this method takes into account how children on the autism spectrum actually learn instead of imposing a system that focuses upon normalizing the child.

What I don't like about TEACCH:

We had a TEACCH instructor come to our home for awhile and she was more rigid and obsessive about things staying the same than my child. When the priority becomes following a strict schedule instead of teaching spontaneous interactions and adaptability, the model falls short. Schedules are great but sometimes they must be broken. The child cannot become too reliant on these methods as this is not how the larger world works.

I think it is like any method, it all depends upon how it is implemented as to how effective or useful it will be. Any model carried to an extreme will not be as effective as using a more eclectic approach, utilizing the best elements from various methods and tailoring them to the unique needs of the child.

How to find out more about TEACCH:

TEACCH Autism Program

As I have mentioned at the beginning of this series, there are good techniques one can glean from any of these therapeutic and teaching approaches. I believe that parts of these methods can be used to help not only children with autism but any child who has special needs and challenges. As a parent you are your child's primary teacher. It is good to know about the many ways you can help your child to learn and to navigate the world despite their unique challenges. I hope that these posts have given you some tools to do just that.